Interviewing in Rwanda

Lesson one: Don’t schedule a 5pm interview on your first working day in country. Lesson two: Know who you are interviewing and why you are interviewing them. Jet lag is one of those things that you just can’t control, no matter how hard you try. Combine that with an interviewee who just wants to talk about himself and the completely project unrelated activities that he is currently undertaking and you get four half to fully asleep MBA’s with dazed and confused looks. Although we did start off by introducing ourselves and our project, the truth is we were not really sure what his organization is doing and how they were related to our project. We did ask our client contact to give us more details prior to the interview on why we are meeting him, but she had just joined WCS a week ago and seemed as confused as we were. Things could only go uphill from here.

As the days went by, we became experts in interviewing. Instead of having a list of specific questions, we decided to just identify the key areas we want to discuss and just go with the flow to create a more relaxed and open environment. We also moved towards open ended questions using phrases like “what are your general thoughts” followed by more detailed questions when necessary.

Interview with five star lodge General Manager

While things were rosy, we still had a few hiccups. Lesson three: Do not corner your interviewee – literally. We walked into the room where we were going to conduct the interview and did not really know where to sit or how to setup the chairs. It was quite an awkward seating arrangement – more like a classroom, and before we knew it our interviewee stuck himself in the corner of the room. Instead of suggesting a different setting, we just cornered him. How would you feel if you were in a corner and had four know-it-all MBA’s facing you and asking you questions? He looked so uncomfortable and was extremely defensive in his answers. I think we can all tell if an interview is not really going as planned. In such situations, just take a 5 minute break and re-think how you can make the best out of the remaining time.

Fourth and last lesson: Dress consistently. We had just come back from our week end with the gorillas, when we received an email from our client, telling us to be ready for an 8am interview the next day with the Head of Tourism. We were not expecting that interview and had left our luggage at the WCS office. With little time to prepare, we ended up having people in dress shirts and others in jeans and tennis shoes. Not a pretty scene. When in country, be prepared for these unexpected interviews, sudden change of plans, etc. And no matter what, don’t wear your tennis shoes when you meet with the Head of Tourism. You know who you are…

—Tarek Hosny

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